Consumer Rights under the Consumer Protection Act, India. In the previous articles, we have given How to File a Cyber Crime Complaint in India. Today we are discussing what are the basic consumer rights that every Indian should be aware of. Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted in 1986 to protect the interests of consumers in India. It makes provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith.
In order to safeguard consumer interest, 6 consumer rights were initially envisioned by consumer rights activists of the West, namely:
- Right to Safety
- Right to Information
- Right to Choice
- Right to be Heard
- The Right to seek Redressal
- The right to consumer education
Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
These rights were conceptualized in the developed world’s consumer context where consumers are wealthy and completely dependent on the market to fullfil their needs. These rights had to be redefined keeping in mind the realities of a developing country like India. Consequently, two very important rights were added viz.:
- The Right to Basic Needs and
- The right to a healthy and sustained environment.
These two rights are very closely linked with the realities of developing countries where environment plays a very important role as a resource and support-structure for the people. In a country like India, a large section of the population looks for food security, assured safe water supply, shelter, education and health services. Most consumers relate very little to imported goods stacked in supermarkets or for choice among latest models of cars, as is the case in the developed world. For India’s 1 billion population, food security and a safe environment are more pressing needs than any other consumer options and rights. The developing country natural resources also serve as a resource base for the developed world’s industrial output.
1. Right to Safety
According to this right the consumers have the right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property, this right is important for safe and secure life. This right includes concern for consumer’s long term interest as well as for their present requirement.
2.Right to Information
Right to information means the right to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice or decision about factors like quality, quantity, potency, purity standards and price of product or service. The right to information now goes beyond avoiding deception and protection against misleading advertising, improper labelling and other practices.
For e.g. when you buy a product or utilise a service, you should be informed about
- how to consume a product
- the adverse health effects of its consumption
- Whether the ingredients used are environment- friendly or not etc.
Due to the ever increasing influence of the market and the ever changing scene with price wars and hard-sell techniques, the consumer’s right to information becomes even more important.
3. Right to Choice
According to this right every consumer has the right to choose the goods or services of his or her likings. The right to choose means an assurance of availability, ability and access to a variety of products and services at competitive price and competitive price means just or fair price.
The producer or supplier or retailer should not force the customer to buy a particular brand only. Consumer should be free to choose the most suitable product from his point of view.
4.Right to be Heard
The right to be heard means that consumers should be allowed to voice their opinions and grievances at appropriate fora. For e.g. if you have been cheated in the market place or deprived of the right quality of service, your complaint should be heard and given due attention by the authorities.
Consumers should also have a right to voice their opinion when rules and regulations pertaining to them are being formulated, like the recent amendments in the Consumer Protection Act. The right to be heard holds special significance in the Indian context because Indian consumers are largely unaware of their rights and passively accept their violation.
5. Right to Seek Redressal
According to this right the consumer has the right to get compensation or seek redressal against unfair trade practices or any other exploitation. This right assures justice to consumer against exploitation.
The right to redressal includes compensation in the form of money or replacement of goods or repair of defect in the goods as per the satisfaction of consumer. Various redressal forums are set up by the government at national level and state level.
6.Right to Consumer Education
Consumer education empowers consumers to exercise their consumer rights. It is perhaps the single most powerful tool that can take consumers from their present disadvantageous position to one of strength in the marketplace. Consumer education is dynamic, participatory and is mostly acquired by hands-on and practical experience.
For instance, a woman who makes purchase decisions for the household and does the actual buying in the marketplace would be more educated about market conditions and ‘best buys’ than a person who educates himself about the market with the help of newspapers or television.
Basic rights of consumers include:
- Right to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property.
- Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices.
- Right to be assured, wherever possible, access to variety of goods and services at competitive prices.
- Right to be heard and to be assured that consumers interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums.
- Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices.
- Right to consumer education.
To file the complaint:
- Complaint is to be filed within two years of buying the product or using the service.
- Complaint needs to be in writing. Letters should be sent by registered post, hand-delivered, by email or fax. Don’t forget to take an acknowledgment.
- The complaint should mention the name and address of the person who is complaining and against whom the complaint is being filed. Copies of relevant documents must be enclosed.
- The consumer must mention details of the problem and the demand on the company for redressal. This could be replacement of the product, removal of the defect, refund of money, or compensation for expenses incurred and for physical/mental torture. Please ensure that the claims are reasonable.
- You should preserve all bills, receipts and proof of correspondence related to the case. Avoid using voice mail or telephone because such interactions are normally difficult to prove.
- The complaint can be in any Indian language, but it is better to use English.
- There is no compulsion to hire a lawyer. Main cost consists of correspondence and travelling to the consumer forum for the hearing
- Maintain a complete record of the emails and documents sent by you.
The consumer courts (district court, state commission and National Commission) are given vast powers to enforce their orders. If a defaulter does not appear in court despite notices and reminders, the court may decide the matter in his absence. The forum can sentence the defaulter to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and impose a fine of Rs. 10,000. Forums can issue warrants to produce defaulters in court. They can use the police and revenue departments to enforce orders.
The rights of consumers needs to be protected since they avail services given by the service providers based on trust and faith and thus it’s a necessity to keep a check on the service providers for the sake of service recipient.
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